Gears of Bore
It’s easy to forget that the original Gears of War was a massively influential title; both on third person shooters and on the Xbox 360 hardware itself. Developer Epic Games, previously famous for the first person Unreal Tournament, negotiated with Microsoft prior to the 360’s release and managed to get the corporation to increase the console’s RAM to 512mb. They did this by showing them a running build of Gears – Microsoft were sold, allegedly to the tune of a billion dollars. When it comes to the series’ influence on gaming, at the time its snap-to cover-based combat was pretty revolutionary. Lead dev Clifford ‘Cliffy B’ Bleszinski stated that in real combat people do not jump up and down like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert, they get behind cover and outmaneuver the enemy. This resulted in the absence of a jump button and a game that resulted in a quick death for anyone blindly charging the opposition.
Fast forward to the present day and the cover-based third person shooter is as ubiquitous to gaming as Mario is to Nintendo. There is an overabundance of games in the genre, indeed it has become saturated to the point of tedium. There are still games that make the genre exciting and relevant such as Vanquish, but in general there is a feeling of malaise.
After a full Gears of War trilogy spanning the majority of the generation, the series finds itself in a strange and unenviable position. Its once revolutionary tropes are now genre cornerstones, and the plot by its very nature has seen the franchise come to epitomise the iconology of generic, gruff space marine ‘bromance’. The series is still massively popular and remains one of Microsoft’s flagship IPs in a dwindling list of platform exclusives, but in order for the game to remain relevant a change was needed. In stepped developer People Can Fly, the massively talented folks responsible for the criminally underrated and often overlooked Bulletstorm. Darlings of Epic Games, they have been handed the huge responsibility of shaping a Gears of War prequel that feels fresh and exciting. Having the reputation of such a big franchise on their shoulders must have been daunting, but if anyone could craft a worthy installment then it was them.
Gears of Horde
Gears of War: Judgment tells the ‘story’ of fan favourites Damon Baird and Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole, along with two new characters who make up their Kilo Squad. The ‘plot’ takes place in the aftermath of Emergence Day; when the COG began the war against the Locust Horde. Depending on your overall view of gaming as a narrative force, or a pure medium unto itself with no need for plot or characterisation the following will either find you elated or depressed – this game has the thinnest, bare-bones plot you could imagine. The original Gears was lambasted for its paper-thin story, but Judgment makes that game’s plot seem like the entire series of Lost. Random macguffins serve only to drive the squad forward to the next area, nothing more. It definitely feels like Gears has run out of things to say. There is a reason for this though – People Can Fly made it clear that they wanted to make a game that felt more like the first, but with one major change – they wanted to craft the hardest, most brutal Gears experience yet. Freed from the constraints of driving a plot forward, they have done just that.
This is a pure, unadulterated arcade game. Each mission is divided up into seven sections – basically just bowl-shaped arenas built for killing. The occasional corridor links them but make no mistake, this is basically Horde mode under the guise of a ‘campaign’. You are marked out of three stars on each section for things such as head shots, executions etc. At the end of a section you are even given the option to replay, cementing the message that this is essentially a score attack game under the Gears moniker. You will find your stalwart enemy of old, the Locust in far greater numbers and far more aggressive than you are used to. Even on the lower difficulties we found ourselves dying quite regularly – and we’ve completed the other games in the series on Insane. The usual Horde tropes of countdowns to waves of enemies and placing defenses such as automated turrets are present and appear with depressing regularity. The campaign is extremely short – an afternoon’s play will see the credits roll – and if you have no interest in high scores then there is absolutely no reason to return to it. The tight, polished combat is as solid as it ever was, but fourth time round it’s just…boring.
Gears of No More
Multiplayer is where most Gears players stay for the long haul, and if you are a die-hard fan then the new game modes will probably satisfy you. There are now different classes with different roles reminiscent of Battlefield, but for our money you will get just as much out of sticking with Gears 3. The absence of Horde mode just goes to show that People Can Fly are all but admitting that the campaign is a replacement, and the omission of other popular modes is strange.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Judgment. It just doesn’t do enough to warrant its existence, and in our opinion it is slightly insulting that gamers are expected to pay full price for this, when it could have worked as a substantial, 2000 MS point piece of DLC. You’re better off sticking with the original trilogy, or better still wait for the inevitable next-gen installment.
– Matt Reynolds. Tweet Gear of Phwoooaaarr to him on Twitter @thelostmoment – he loves it.